The Cars are Winning

September 1, 2022

Four times. My wife and I rode in Pedal PGH this weekend with some close friends and on four separate occasions we had an incident with a driver. Four people, biking four hours were bullied four times by four drivers. We were so audacious as to have the nerve to ride our bikes in public that on four different occasions we were screamed at, harassed or threatened. 

Pedal PGH is an annual bike ride put on by BIKE PGH, which is an incredible cycling advocacy organization here in Pittsburgh. The event takes place on the last Sunday in August and draws quite a crowd. Around 3,000 riders took part this year after a multiple year Covid hiatus. Riders can choose from a 10, 25, 40 and 62 mile route. 

I had participated once and loved the event. This year, I convinced my wife Amber and our friends Greg and Ashley to join us. Amber and Ashley signed up for the 25 mile ride, while Greg and I mistakenly chose the 40. Which with wrong turns, ended up closer to 43. 43 miles and not a single one of them flat. It is Pittsburgh, after all.

  1. Greg and I were riding down Penn Avenue with five or six other cyclists and we come to a stop at a red light. We waited impatiently for the light to turn green while a car on our left side also waited, though I am not sure why. Once the light turned to green, the group of us entered the intersection all making a left hand turn to follow the course posted route. As we all went, the car on our left also decided it was also time to go and pulled into the intersection at the same time, nearly hitting three or four of us. 

    No one was hit and the car wasn’t going fast enough to seriously injure anyone but it was still intimidating. I don’t know whether the driver wasn’t paying attention or trying to make a point, but the later seems more likely. They pulled right into the middle of the group and forced all of us to bike around the front end of their car. Unkind words were shouted, but the driver didn’t seem to care too much. I expect this type of behavior when I ride alone, sadly, but usually riding in groups offers some safety.

I fell in love with bike riding about 10 years ago. It started with a work event when I was still coordinating the Ohio Main Street Program. As the statewide Main Street agency, we were required to host training sessions on a quarterly basis. We did these in our Main Street communities so they would have a chance to show off their successes to their peers and bring in a little additional money to their downtown. 

Around this time, I had become friends with a gentleman named Eric Oberg, Eric was a native Alaskan that had moved to Central Ohio through his work at the Rails to Trails Conservancy. Through a book club and various other beer drinking functions, we became friends and often discussed our work. Eric convinced me that bikes had a tremendous role to play in the health of cities. 

As I was always on the lookout for new content, I thought Eric’s information would make for a great Main Street training. We agreed to host a daylong workshop on cycling and how it benefits a city. As part of the training, those of us on staff decided we would bike the 150 miles from our office in Columbus to the host location in Greenville. 

The ride took two full days and was the perfect introduction to the joys of long distance cycling. After wrapping up the second day, I couldn’t wait to slip into my awkward padded butt shorts and do it all again. Riding is the perfect combination of focus and distraction. You have something to constantly do, but you also have plenty of time to chat with fellow riders.

2. Just a couple of blocks away from the first incident, we were riding in the bike lane down a wide two way street. Greg and I were riding side by side discussing where we would meet up with our wives. Completely startling us both, a horn blared at us from just a couple of feet behind. We looked back to see a very angry man in a Ford F150 (surprise, surprise) screaming at us to “Get out of the road!” Greg was on the edge of the bike lane, but certainly not taking up any of the driver’s precious road. He continued to honk and scream unkind words at Greg until he sped up and passed in an apocalyptic fit for having to share his beautiful tarmac with the likes of us. I screamed back about the pathetic size of his genitals, but surely his overcompensation machine only drowned out my taunts.

This man is driving a multi-thousand pound metal box, capable of easily killing us both with a small flick of his wrist and still feels the need to assert his masculine motor dominance over us for having the gaul to try and remain not dead in the public right of way.

What makes anyone this angry? Has this man’s wife left him, did his dog die? Are we a threat to him? Maybe he needs to have some sort of blood pressure monitor on his truck like a breathalyzer. Is he mad that he was made to spend an extra four seconds in his $50,000 air conditioned truck with an extended cab and leather seats? Why buy such a car if you hate being in it so much?

I don’t know what this individual was dealing with, but I certainly don’t feel safe with him on the road. None of us should. There really isn’t any place for this type of behavior, especially in a dense urban environment.

In the years since that first big ride, I have found myself itching to get on my bike as much as possible. I have found that riding a bike is the best way to see a city. You can cover so much more ground than walking, while also having a chance to experience street life that you would miss out on while driving. There is no windshield to dampen your experience and there is a joy that must be akin to flying as the way a bike rolls and turns and glides through the city blocks. 

It’s also exercise that doesn’t always demand my full attention. I can’t run and carry on much of a conversation, but when riding- chatting with my companion is a huge part of the pleasure. Riding is an incredibly social activity and the other amazing bonus- when people ride bikes, they don’t look at their god damn phones, unlike drivers who don’t seem phased by the notion of surfing the web and rolling around in death machines. The big fun of a city bike ride is also the stops for food and beer. Again, this just doesn’t work on a run because of the puking and what have you, but visiting bars and restaurants pairs well with a good ride. 

3. Our routes separated on Pittsburgh’s Northside for about 15 miles before coming back together Downtown. Here we met up with the wives to finish the remaining 20 miles together. Amber and I were riding together behind our friends down a street marked as a shared lane. Meaning bikes are allowed and encouraged to ride in the middle of the lane. It’s a quiet residential street, so the thinking is, cars don’t need to go faster than a cyclist anyway. I am sure you know where this is going. It takes no time at all for a white Nissan to pull up right on our asses and rev the engine, indicating we are clearly keeping them from their Sunday obligations. Whatever these obligations are, they are far more important than our safety. 

We remain in the middle of the lane, as we should- and also, I don’t feel like it’s necessary to always back down to cars, even though I know the risk. This aggressive driver continues for another minute before finding a small window to pass us. Pass us very close I might add, just to demonstrate how their car can clearly destroy us if they so choose.

Thanks driver, yes, your car is clearly larger and more powerful than my 20 pound bicycle. You are superior and you win. I hope you made it to your destination with plenty of time to spare. 

I like to ride my bike whenever possible, it’s fun, it’s healthy and I think it makes me a better person and more civic-minded. Unfortunately, it feels increasingly risky. I really enjoy riding on city roads, but every time I do, it is made abundantly clear by drivers that they have an enormous problem with my presence. I am not a small guy, I can handle myself, and I would happily face any driver outside of the car, but I am well aware that when it comes to my body and a 3,000 pound metal box, I will lose every time and most likely pay severely. 

4. The four of us were waiting at an intersection for a light to turn in the Oakland neighborhood, a midsize sedan was directly across from us with his left turn signal on. When the light turned, I was the first to make my way into the intersection, just in time to meet the driver turning directly into me. I narrowly swerved out of the way, as Amber, Greg and Ashley followed behind, the driver begins berating us to get the fuck out of his way. He did not wait, the rules of the road did not apply. He realizes that he is in a superior position and if he wants to go, he can go. Might makes right. I was nearly run over because this driver felt like he shouldn’t have to wait 20 seconds for us to traverse the intersection. 

No one was hurt on our ride thankfully, but constantly feeling threatened is demoralizing. Being consistently reminded that my life is not worth someone’s short delay is depressing. Recently, riding my bike has made me hate cars and hate drivers. I own a car and I drive, but until you have been scared shitless by one of these monstrosities, you can’t know how it feels. Being bullied by some asshole in a monster truck, in town for the Steelers game, because I had the nerve to be in the street is a little hard to tolerate at times. 

It doesn’t just make me pissed at drivers, but at the system. It makes me furious with every level of government that they continue to put the wants of drivers over the safety of everyone else. So now, because cars can go everywhere, kids can’t go anywhere? Is a driver’s ETA more valuable than a life, than my life or my wife’s? Why are cities even built to accommodate these ridiculously large compensation machines? Aren’t these human habitats? Don’t cars already dominate every other place in our country? Are we not allowed just the smallest of safe spaces where we can go about our lives without being terrified?

Cities should be designed for people, first and foremost, specifically for residents. The safety of humans should take priority- always. Cites are not amusements parks for visitors, they are not parking lots for guests. A city is not a means for someone to get from point A to B. They are not a gimmick or a sideshow. These are neighborhoods. These are places where people live. These are public streets- as they were for thousands of years and as they are in the rest of the world. So if your argument is that your town or neighborhood was built for cars and therefore it’s “different”, you have already lost your argument… and thanks for making my point. 

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